Katy Perry’s Cleavage, Forever on Sesame Street

Katy Perry is ready to play dress up with Elmo (growingyourbaby.com)

Katy Perry is ready to play dress up with Elmo (growingyourbaby.com).

Katy, please cover up. I’m not sure who thought it would be a good idea for Katy Perry to wear such a skimpy dress on Sesame Street, but they must not have preschoolers.

This summer, my two-year-old discovered Elmo, and all she wanted to do during our rainy August afternoons on Cape Cod was watch Elmo on YouTube. Searching for Elmo videos, we stumbled upon a video of Katy Perry playing tag with Elmo and singing a kid-oriented version of “Hot N Cold”. A fan of both opposites and costumes, my daughter was instantly hooked. Clearly she’s not alone, because the three-year-old video has had over 58 million views.

Every time my daughter asks to watch the Katy Perry video, I cringe. And it seems I have company. The video never actually aired on TV because some parents complained after seeing promotional pictures.

Perhaps it was in some spirit of compromise that the Sesame Workshop issued a public statement about the video in September 2010: “In light of the feedback we’ve received [from parents] on the Katy Perry music video which was released on You Tube only, we have decided we will not air the segment on the television broadcast of Sesame Street, which is aimed at preschoolers. Katy Perry fans will still be able to view the video on KatyPerry.com.”

However, if the video wasn’t fit for television, where it would be watched once, why is it on YouTube, where it will live forever? It even appears as a suggested video on YouTube’s Sesame Street channel, so it’s being posted primarily on Katy Perry’s site – and elsewhere on YouTube – seems irrelevant. It looks like an official Sesame Street video (having begun as one), meaning parents and toddlers are still likely to watch it.

When I contacted Sesame Workshop for comment, their press office pointed me back to their 2010 public statement. Their declining to answer could simply mean they don’t want to reopen this thorny issue, but it didn’t boost my confidence in the staff’s judgment.

When the show’s executive producer was interviewed on The Early Show in 2010, she said it was important to showcase Katy Perry to draw in parents who hadn’t grown up with Sesame Street. When asked to clarify who that elusive demographic might include, the Sesame Workshop press office again offered no comment.

The bottom line is I don’t want my daughter watching a woman entertain us in nearly nothing. I don’t want her thinking that’s normal, admirable, or anything she should ever emulate.

It is troubling that in that CBS interview about the Perry brouhaha, Sesame Street’s executive producer admitted that no one on set had seen anything wrong with Perry’s outfit. According to Janet Sahm, Style Editor for Verily magazine, “The fact the producers had no inclination the outfit would be a problem goes to show deeply embedded the idea of manufactured beauty has become with sexiness, and how there’s no separation anymore.”

Sahm terms Perry’s brand “tongue-in-cheek sexy.” If producers had considered that beforehand, they might have realized it was incompatible with Sesame Street and likely to raise parents’ hackles. Sahm describes Perry’s costume as: “a pointed bralette which is very overtly sexual, reminiscent of Madonna in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s. There was netting, so there wouldn’t be any nipple flashing, but is that something you look for on a children’s show? She’s running around with Elmo in a sexually overt outfit with little girlish details, like a bow, but it’s a warped version of a little girl’s dress. The length was also concerning, because I’m not sure that she could bend over in it. To say kids are too young to know any different is a cop-out.”

Sahm points to a study released last year by Knox College psychologists that showed girls as young as six now worry about being sexy. So clearly the hypersexualized images girls see around them have an impact, even at a young age. Must Sesame Street join that unhealthy, hypersexualized parade?

Give us more celebrity guest spots like Feist’s. She sings a fantastic, creative song (another modified hit, in fact) about counting to four, all while tastefully clothed. Now, that is one image I’m comfortable having my daughter watch endlessly.

This article appeared in Acculturated.

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